Although I’ve taken a few photography and editing classes, I am mostly self-taught. In other words, lots of practice, and then after that, even more practice. And I know that I still have a lot to learn. However, I know that I couldn’t have gotten to the point where I am without doing a ton of reading and making use of all the awesome resources available online.
KNOW YOUR CAMERA | If you’re just starting out with a DSLR, I recommend first reading your camera manual thoroughly. Depending on how user-friendly your camera manual is, you may want to consider purchasing one of the many secondary camera manuals out there for your specific model. When I was learning how to use my first DSLR (my Nikon d40), I used Ken Rockwell’s user guide. For me, his descriptions of each camera setting just made more sense. Every person’s different, of course, but know that you at least have the option.
SHOOT IN MANUAL | l’ll be honest. I resisted learning how to use manual for some time. Those “automatic” settings are there for a reason, right? Sure, but if you want to really get the most out of your camera, then shooting in manual is the way to go. Otherwise, the photo taken on “auto” on your DSLR is not much better than the photo taken on “auto” on most point-and-shoot cameras. My only regret is that I didn’t try shooting in manual sooner. Learning to shoot in manual mode can be daunting at first, but with lots of reading and more practice, it’s not only possible to shoot in manual, but to totally rock your camera while doing so.
READ, READ, READ | Ask any photographer to recommend a book, and 99% of the time, they recommend Bryan Peterson’s Understanding Exposure. If you’re confused about the exposure triangle like I was, this book really helped everything *click* for me. It’s something that I continue to go back to refresh and sharpen my learning.
In addition, I’d recommend getting a book specifically tailored to your interests. To learn more about photographing your children and family, I recommend Rachel Devine’s and Peta Mazey’s Beyond Snapshots: How to Take that Fancy “DSLR” and Photograph Your Life like a Pro. Very accessible with lots of specific projects and inspiration for must-have shots as your kids grow.
If you’re expecting a little one soon or anytime in the future, learn how to document all of those baby milestones with help from Me Ra Koh’s Your Baby in Pictures: The New Parents’ Guide to Photographying your Baby’s First Year. Not only does Koh walk you through the important developmental milestones that happen during baby’s first year, she also shows you the best ways to document and photograph those special moments.
And one more resource I love love love is Barb Ulil’s For the Love, an e-book designed “for anyone who loves photography, as it is a gentle reminder that we need to slow down, record, and remember these precious days. Whilst also offering the needed tools and assistance to ensure that you can get the shots you want. No matter your level of photography.” Read it on your phone, your Kindle, or your iPad. Such a beautiful and thoughtfully designed resource.
FIND KINDRED SPIRITS | Nothing has helped improve my photography more than taking advantage of the many web resources out there, especially photography websites and online forums. There are many free resources, including groups on Flickr that are organized based on everything from interest to subject to equipment type. Just a quick search on Flickr’s website can yield many results. Groups vary in terms of activity and privacy restrictions, but there is also plenty of eye candy to keep you inspired, too.
When you’re ready and willing to make the dive, I’d take the next step and join an online photography community. (Of course, I’m sure there many in-person photography-related groups, but with my busy schedule of work, kids, and endless laundry, the flexibility of online forums just works out better for me.) Community groups such as I Heart Faces and The Bloom Forum are filled to the brim with inspiration and support, knowledge and experience. Personally, I would SUPER recommend Clickin’ Moms. I’ve been a member there for more than a year now, and it has been an amazing experience. Members range from those who are hobbyists and just beginning to experienced, nationally-renowned professional photographers. In addition to their online forums, Clickin Moms also offers a variety of e-learning opportunities, from breakout sessions to 3-4 week workshops. I have taken several of their workshops, and they are all wonderful – it’s amazing how much my work has grown as a result of my experiences with Clickin Moms. <3
PRACTICE | As with most skills, there’s really no better way to get better than good, old-fashioned practice. And if you have kids, what better subjects could you ask for?
Hopefully the tips above are helpful to get you started on your own photography journey. Of course, there’s always more, such as shooting in RAW and learning how to process (edit) your photos. But no amount of processing (aka “Photoshopping”) can save a photo that wasn’t taken properly “in-camera” in the first place. Once you’ve got the shot, processing and editing your photos is the next step in finding your artistic style.
For basic processing (and organizing), something simple like iPhoto can be a powerful tool. I use Lightroom for 98% of my editing with Photoshop Elements for other finer-tuned editing. Adobe offers free trials of their software through their website.